Touring the Brunello Vineyards

We awoke this morning bright and early, and started our day off with a tasty breakfast to fill our bellies.

Last night, we booked a wine tour with a local company called Di Gusti. We met our guide, Gilberto, at 9am in a little plaza close to our B&B and were off to the town of Montalcino.

On route, Gilberto educated us about all the wines in the area, specifically the Sangiovese grape. We learned that depending on how long it sits with the skin on, determines the type of wine it can make. For example, one day is a white, three days a rosé, and one week a red. He also informed us about the differences between the DOCG, DOC, and IGT labeled wines. The first indicates that the wine producers followed the strictest regulations and had the wine tested by a committee to ensure the geographical authenticity of the wine. The DOC label still indicates strict guidelines, but they tend to be a bit more relaxed than the DOCG. Finally, the IGT label was created to indicate that a wine producer couldn’t follow all of the guidelines but still makes great wine. Gilberto gave us an example of an IGT wine where it’s comes from the Sangiovese grape, but in order to be a Sangiovese wine it has to be made of 80% Sangiovese grapes. A wine producer could instead use 50% Sangiovese grapes and 50% something else and still make an amazing blend, but then would be limited to the IGT label. This allows for many great wine producers to be creative in the blends they can make.

Along on drive to the first winery, we saw beautiful fields of sunflowers, vineyard after vineyard, and rolling hills that went on for miles.

On first visit was at a family run vineyard called Poggio Rubino. This is a 7 hectare vineyard that has been passed down the family since the 1800s. To ensure the soil of the ground is healthy to grow great grapes, they plant a rose, and if the rose grows then they know grapes will too. The vineyard is surrounded by a tallish caged fence, which protects the grapes from the many pests, particularly deer and wild boar!

We had a tour of the grounds, the beautiful view, and of course the cellars where the magic happens. They informed us that the wine spends only 30 days max in the silver tanks.

We then returned to the main room to begin our tasting. To start with, we had their rosé which is 50% Sangiovese grapes and 50% Pinot noir. It was sparkly, fresh, and an easy drinking summer wine.

Next, they brought us two different olive oils to try. The pure one cost €35 a bottle and the blend €25. One olive tree makes about one bottle of olive oil. We also tried two different types of balsamic. One was 15 years aged and cost €70 a bottle and the second was 30 years aged and cost €90 a bottle. For any balsamic lover, you would have been in heaven. These were both absolutely delicious, especially the 30 year aged, as it was less sweet. At this point, they also prepared us a small snack.

Our next wine was called the Rosso, which is a 2 year aged young grape.

After that, we had two types of Brunello, these are 5 year aged grapes. They were similar in style except for the one on the right came from volcanic soil which greatly impacted the minerally taste of the wine (and to me, made it that much more delicious!).

Finally, we had the piece de resistance: the riserva. This Brunello has to be aged for at least 6 years. This baby sells for a whopping €125, and you could taste the difference.

Our tasting ended with a glass of grappa which is made from the grape skin.

After leaving the winery, we made a short stop in the town of Montalcino, which sits 500m above sea level and was an old fortress for the town of Siena.

Continuing on our journey, we headed to our second vineyard, Tornsei. The house has been in the family since 1863 and again has been passed down through the generations. It’s currently being run by a 91 year old grandma, the son who is the winemaker, and his wife and two daughters. We were lucky enough to meet the winemaker himself and his daughter! We received a tour of the cellars and learned about how their wine making process has evolved through the years.

When we returned to the stunning panoramic terrace, they had a beautiful homemade lunch made for us. During lunch, we also tasted their Rosso and Brunello.

We loaded back into the van and began our trip back to Florence. Now, I forgot to mention. We had booked this tour because they specifically stated that they don’t take more than 8 people in their van. However, today it was only Daniel and I. We essentially had our own private tour of these beautiful Brunello vineyards!

On route home, the amazing Gilberto stopped at the Piazzale Michelangelo to allow us to see a gorgeous view of Florence, which included part of the old city wall that was built in 1334. The square also has the “fake David.”

Returning back to our B&B for a quick pit stop, it then began to hail!

We waited for an hour to so for the storm to pass, and ventured to our favourite little market for dinner. We were fairly filled by all our wine and food today, but still managed to have a beautiful cheesey appetizer, a massive arancini, and a little dessert.

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You Want a Pisa Me?

Feeling a little sad this morning, as we boarded the train and said goodbye to our favourite little town, Riomaggiore. On route to or next destination, we planned for a few hour stop over in Pisa.

Getting off the train, we realized how nice it was to be by the water as the good old hot weather was right back at us. We dropped our bags off in storage for the day, and headed into town to explore all that Pisa had to show us.

It’s been awhile since we’ve seen cars so that was an interesting feeling right away. We crossed the Arno River and immediately were in one of Pisa’s many piazzas, Piazza Girabaldi.

Continuing along the pedestrian only streets, we strolled around to the old city walls.

This street led us straight to The Field of Miracles, which includes several beautiful historical buildings, and of course, the Leaning Tower is Pisa.

The tower itself was surprisingly smaller than I had imagined, but it’s definitely leaning! Apparently in the early 2000s it underwent extensive restoration as it was on the brinks of a potential collapse.

As we were making fun of everyone posing and being ridiculous, we figured we might as well join in on the fun. When in Rome, right, oh still not yet.

We wandering around the area for quite some time, trying to avoid the heat and crowds, and then decided to head for lunch. We walked away for the Field of Miracles area, more into the historical centre and found a gem of a restaurant. We began with the bruschetta, which was insane with the ripe tomatoes and dripping olive oil.

Next, we had a four cheese gnocchi, which also was very cheesy and tasty.

Finally, we ended with a pizza, made right in front of us in a wood burning stove. The perfect lunch!

Continuing our travels in Pisa, we passed through the streets, the many piazzas, the monuments, a garden: there was just so much to see!

As the heat we getting to us, we stopped for a final little drink before heading back to the train station on route to Florence!

Once arriving in Florence, we got ourselves situated at our new B&B, and then ventured out to check out the food at the local market. There are over 40 different restaurants and places where you can buy insanely fresh food. It’s almost like a super high end cafeteria.

We began our dinner with a cheese and meat platter and a glass of red. Wow!

Next, we order the spaghetti alla carbonara.

Perfect way to end a day of traveling!

“Cinquegelaterre”

Our daily adventures today led us to discover and explore the rest of the towns of Cinque Terre. While doing so, we decided to incorporate our own gelato tour. Trying gelato in each town and deciding on the best gelato makers.

We began in the fullest town north, Monterosso. Bathing suit on and ready, we immediately headed down to the beach. Monterosso is known for their beaches and supposedly have the best ones out of the five towns. I would probably agree!

We wandered around Monterroso afterwards and learned about their cliff called Punta Mesco. It now contains ancient sandstone mines which were used to pave the streets of Monterosso and other cities in the area.

Monterosso definitely has a different feel to it that both Riomaggiore and Manarola. It’s much bigger, you could stroll the streets for hours, and explore all the old sites it has to offer.

Here, I ordered the lemon and reso berry gelato which was a pretty good start. Daniel doesn’t remember what he had. It must have been that tasty!

Hopping back on the train, we ventured next to Vernazza. Like Monterroso, Vernazza is a larger town with lots to see and do. We went down to the harbour, wandered into some amazing shops, and relaxed by the water. There was one shop in town that had lemon everything, soap, drinks, olive oils, etc… It was amazing.

Here, I ordered the lemon and strawberry, and Daniel had the lemon cream and pistachio. This gelato was decent, but the previous one was still better in my mind.

Continuing our journey, we arrived in the high top town of Corniglia. This place is beautiful! The narrow, cobbled stone streets brought back memories of Venice. We climbed up numerous stairs to reach a view point, but it ended up being too dark to be able to see anything decent.

We stopped at the number one ranked gelato shop in Cinque Terre, and it was insanely delicious! Here, I ordered the lemon and mango, and Daniel ordered the Cream of Portofino and basil. Portofino was Daniels favourite of the three as well, so looks like Corniglia takes it for the win!

We skipped Manarola on our way back, since we already visited it, and heading back to Riomaggiore for our final night.

By the time we arrived in town, due to a 30 minute train delay, it was almost 11:30pm. Apparently everything in Riomaggiore closes so our only option for food was a little dive bar. We ordered a couple drinks and pizza, with low expectations, but everything was surprisingly good.

Pesto Making 101

We had a decent sleep in this morning before getting ready for our big afternoon. We of course had to partake in a local morning treat.

Boarding the train around 10am, we were on route to Manarola, the second of the five towns closest to the south. It’s actually a very short walk to Manarola from Riomaggiore, except for the fact that the trail is temporarily closed. Once we arrived and headed down the path to the marina, we were blown away by the beauty of the water and cliff side villas.

Following a path around the cove, we walked up several stairs which led us to a restaurant called Nessun Dorma. Here we would partake in a pesto making class! The Cinque Terre region is known for several things: seafood, white wine, and pesto!

We checked in with our chef Simone who then led us through our class. We were given two basil plants where we had to hand pick the leaves and place them into a bowl. Ice was then added to the top, to cover the leaves. This allows for a low oxidation for the leaves.

Next, we placed a clove of garlic and a sprinkle of salt in a mortar and smashed it around the sides until it became a liquid.

We then grabbed bundles of the basil leaves, gave them a few shakes and drained the water out of the bowl as a process of cleaning. The leaves were then added into the mortar. A handful of pine nuts were added as well. Now, these pine nuts came from Pisa and sell for a whopping €83/kg!!! Once on top, they were all mashed together.

Our next step included adding the cheese: around 1 cup of 24 month aged parmesan cheese and a small stick of 36 month aged pecorino cheese.

As the pesto became thick, the final step was to add 5 seconds worth of high quality olive oil.

And voila, our pesto was complete!

Chef Simone then gave us the low down on wine in Cinque Terre and what makes it so unique. Due to the vertical landscape of the area, all of the grapes are hand harvesting by a local cooperative, that brings in young adults to help the older wine experts and growers. The wine itself contains three types of grapes: Bosco, Albarola, and Vermintino. They also have three main tasting notes, again due to the region and landscape: minerals, salty, and dry. The wine that we tried during our class was great, and you could clearly taste the notes he explained. Because the vineyard land is limited they’re only able to produce 5000 bottles of wine each year. We definitely cherished it!

After our class was finished, we were then allowed to choose our seat in the restaurant, and were given an amazing spread of food.

The view, atmosphere, and everything surrounding us made our lunch perfect!

Livin’ On The Sea

Today was dedicated purely to traveling. It was a long, sad goodbye as we ventured down the Grand Canal on a hot and sweaty vaporetto before arriving at the train station. As the train took off and we saw land and cars for the first time in a while, I felt a sense of wonder: where will we ever find a place where buses are boats and streets overlook the beauty of canals? Bittersweet I’d say so myself.

We had what we thought was a short layover in Florence, which ended up being a mad running dash for the next train. Good thing crossfit has trained me well enough to run in flip flops. Out of breathe with barely a minute to spare the train took off on route to the coastal town of La Spezia. Once we arrived there, sadly we missed our following train and were delayed by 30ish minutes.

Being your typical type A personality, I was freaking out about being a half hour late meeting our guesthouse host. We had no way to contact her, and the WiFi was nil. Luckily, Daniel’s sweet, charming Irish accent managed the tourist office to call our host and meet us right outside the train station. She walked and talked, and led us to our adorable new abode for the next few days. Martha gave us numerous suggestions and things to do, and really is a tour guide herself.

Martha booked us in for a Michelin guide restaurant along the coast. According to google, our 2 minute walk ended up being 30 seconds so we had ample time to explore the cove prior to our dinner. What a beauty it is!

I’ve always loved the water, but this made me question even more, why I don’t live by it. The sheer beauty and calmly effect is something to admire.

As our dinner seating time approached, we walked up the cliff side to the gorgeous setting of our restaurant and of course immediately ordered a beautiful, local wine.

Deciding on dinner options was a bit of a feat. To being with, we shared the most deliciously and naturally tasting oysters I’ve ever had!

For our main course, Daniel chose the Riomaggiore spaghetti, with fresh anchovies, and I selected the black ink Tagliolini with clams and squid. Both were insanely delicious.

Instead of finishing off with a dessert, we decided to hike up to the highest point of town, wine in hand, and enjoyed the evening, star-lit sky, stunning view, and tasty beverages!

Can’t wait for tomorrow!

The Islands of Venezia

After another tasty breakfast, we decided to spend our last full day in Venice lagooning around the islands. Boarding the vaporetto just in the knick of time, our first destination was Burano. Once you arrive, your eyes are memorized by the pastel houses which line the canals. Each one appears different and is so unique in it’s style, colour, and sheer cuteness!

Burano is renowned for its lace making and every shop along every canal is filled with beautifully hand made lace pieces: table cloths, dresses, art. It’s stunning, incredible soft, and worth a large penny!

Touring the streets during this crazy heat wave made us quite thirsty, so we stopped at the local grocer and picked up a few ingredients for a picnic. We sat by the canal, with a gentle breeze, and admired (and ate) our delicious spread.

This was also my first Lambrusco in Italy. I’m still going questioning why it took so long, but it was fab!

Once lunch was finished, and I was annoyed by all the creatures, seagulls and ants alike, that Daniel persuaded to visit us, we crossed a small footpath which led us to Mazzorbo.

As you walk through these peaceful, art filled gardens, you realize that you’re surrounded by vineyards: Beautiful white grapes hanging vine after vine.

Following the path, we came across a Michelin star restaurant, but were more interested in trying out some of the wine from the vineyard. We walked into the shop, asked if we could do a wine tasting, and the finely dressed man replied, “Yes, you can taste our wine. It’s €25/glass.” When in Rome we thought, even though we aren’t quite there yet. The man informed us that the wine itself is a Venetian Dorona, which is a thick-skinned golden grape that is like a white wine grape, however is treated like a red wine. It’s barreled for 25 years and has a beautiful nectar colouring. The vineyard itself is only one hectare and produces only 4000 bottles of wine each year. Each bottle is numbered and the “wine labels” contain a traditional Venetian gold leaf, applied by hand to each bottle before being baked by local glass makers.

The wine itself tastes quite unique. A mix between port, sherry, and a red wine. It was delicious and a perfect stop on our afternoon adventure. Our server also offered us a complimentary snack of a cod fish flan… insane!

Our final island stop was Murano, the glass blowing island. Not nearly as impressive as Burano in its uniqueness, but the glass itself was stunning. The technique, precision, and work that goes into a piece, well I can’t even imagine what that would take.

The final picture shows some very fine pieces that sell from between €2000-€4000!

Walking around Murano, and seeing the impressive skills that the artists have, we were led to a street with a stunning masterpiece at the end.

Hot and hungry, we hopped back onto the vaporetto and ventured back to Venice. We walked through the beautiful streets to our dinner destination, Birraria La Corte, a local restaurant inside an old brewery. We began with a local IPA for Daniel and an Aperol spritz for myself.

We had a full fledged sharesies meal tonight. We began with the scallops done in a cauliflower and carrot creme, top with the finest prosciutto.

For our next course, we selected the ricotta gnocchi. I can’t even explain how pure and insanely delicious this was.

Finally, we ordered our first pizza: cheese, mushrooms, porchetta. Simple ingredients make something extraordinary.

The meal was a perfect last dinner in Venice. We spent the rest of the evening strolling the beautiful streets and wishing we had more time to get lost in the beauty of Venice!

Venezia: The City of Bridges

We awoke after a glorious sleep in our B&B with the sun shining brightly through our windows. Once getting up, we ventured into the kitchen and were pleasantly greeted with a delicious breakfast spread: eggs, yogurt, croissant, fruit, juices, and espresso. What a great way to start the day!

Today was a day dedicated to site seeing and exploring all that Venice has to offer. Leaving our place, we immediately hit a wall of heat. Now, it’s been awhile since I’ve been in a humid place but let me tell you, +40 is hot! I was sweating in places I didn’t even know were possible, which made the desire to wait in long site seeing lines quite less desirable.

First, we traveled over bridges and canals until we reached St. Mark’s Square. This is a grand square surrounded by beautiful historical buildings and sites: St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, the Campanile Bell Tower, and the Correr Museum.

Although we wanted and attempted to see everything, the long lines and heat didn’t make it all quite possible. We started our tour in the Correr Museum.

The museum also houses a library, set up by the Pisani family, where the bookcases hold rare manuscripts dating back to the early 16th century. They also contain several ducal orders and regulations.

The Museo Archeologico is also held within the Correr Museum. Here you can see armor, statues, and paintings.

One painting of particular interest to me was The Two Venetian Gentlewomen by Vittore Carpaccio, which has various symbolic details: the pearls around their neck indicate respect to their marriage vows, the white kerchief is a sign of purity, the doves modesty, the peahen marital concord, the dogs vigilance. This painting dates back to around the 1490s.

Once we finished at the museum, we walked over to the Doge’s Palace. This palace was build on a half acre with the intent to show off the wealth and power of the Republic. Wealth it sure exudes.

The Bridge of Sighs connects the palace to the prison. It’s said that it name originated from the fact that a condemned man would be walked over the bridge, have one final glance at the glory of Venice, and sigh. The prison was a dark and gloomy place, where you could see old carvings made by prisoners.

Next, we continued our journey up the canals to the Rialto Bridge. Once on the bridge, you’re offered a beautiful view of the Grand Canal.

By this time, we were still hot and beginning to get hungry so we stopped for our first gelato. It was amazing!

We did a bit more wandering, browsing, site seeing, and drinking before sitting along the canal side deciding upon what we would have for dinner.

We ventured into a small square and opted to try out Osteria Alla Fresca. We began with a white and red wine, and an incredible octopus dish with a purple potato sauce. This was by far the best dish I’ve ever had! Ever!

For our next course, Daniel ordered the swordfish ravioli, and I, the seafood spaghetti.

Finally, we finished off with our first trial of dessert in Italy: tiramisu and panna cotta. Both, of course, impressed!

Buonasera!